I have been asked to comment on the recent police injunction against Dong Zong to continue with the congress or meeting on the Jawi issue.
I was supposed to be one of the invited speakers along with Zaid Ibrahim and other Malaysians. I had already sent in my speech to the organisers to be translated into Mandarin when a late WhatsApp message appeared the night before the event saying it was stopped.
There was a hail of condemnation from many quarters, who before this were as quite as a mouse. There was a statement from MCA, from an Amanah leader in cabinet and civil society in general condemning the police on such a hasty and ‘partial’ treatment of non-Malay events.
Just a few months after the Kongres Maruah Melayu that got all the attention and pomp and ceremony, the stifling of the voice of a minority group did not go down well with proponents of the New Malaysia. Many are saying that New Malaysia is dead and it is hard to argue against that.
Malaysians have witnessed for themselves how Malays who threatened Malaysians with May 13 and other angry demonstrations are left scot-free while those wanting to air their concerns in a closed door event are disallowed to do so.
I wish to paint a different picture on this event cancellation issue and the message is that many in New Malaysia now have the luxury of freedom of speech, but none so far has the wisdom to choose their words carefully or to hold their piece.
In a mature, responsible and fair Malaysia, freedom of speech must be tampered with the wisdom to not speak or to stay silent by choice. If not, we are heading towards a sure course of destruction.
I will comment on the three main players in this drama which are the politician, the police and the Congress organiser, Dong Zong. To summarise my message…everyone failed the wisdom test.
The first to fail were Dr. Mahathir, Anwar Ibrahim and Mujahid. All failed. Dr. M was the first to say that having the congress would call others to retaliate.
To many Malaysians, Dr. M has lost much credibility for allowing the Kongres Maruah Melayu to proceed and he was in no position to tell others otherwise. Anwar then made the same statement after Mujahid echoed Dr. M. All three did not show great wisdom in phrasing their words in a diplomatic language. What they implied in their statement was that the Jawi issue has been discussed at the highest levels and that the government has given in to only three pages, so there is nothing more to discuss.
Both SEKAT and Dong Zong were organising two separate events to say that the issue was not settled! How could all three politicians missed that? The politicians whom the Dong Zong helped put into office could phrase their concerns in some diplomatic way that opens rather than closes the issue abruptly. They could say something like “we are aware that the various communities are deeply concerned about this issue and even though the government has addressed it in the best possible way, the government of the people, by the people and for the people are always ready for a dialogue in a later time. Even though it is the right of Dong Zong and SEKAT to practise their democratic liberty, we hope that they can see a wider picture of possible negative consequences that may hamper an immediate solution to the issue.”
I would have said that and followed it by sending a delegation for a closed door meeting to frame the dialogue. I am sure both organisations would rethink their planned events if that were to happen.
The police, in one sense was right to get a court injunction as the situation was getting ugly. I think if the congress went on then the Malay counter gathering at Kajang Stadium would have done irreparable damage to future racial relations in this country.
The mistake of the police was not to act decisively on those that flagrantly tossed the May 13 incident. Had the police swooped in to arrest the May 13 agitators, that would have sent a strong no-nonsense signal to the Malay group to mind their manners and words.
It's OK for the Malays to hold the event but in a civilised and respectful manner. Although Malay gatherings have been known to be ‘kurang ajar’ to Malaysians, I have never lost hope for my race to be more polite and prudent.
The organiser, Dong Zong, I am afraid also failed the wisdom to speak test. When the Dong Zong announced that they would be gathering Chinese and non-Malay strength to oppose the Jawi issue, I knew it was a disaster in the making from day one. Malays would definitely interpret this as a challenge. I had advised the Dong Zong committee that it would be better to hold a Pendidikan Budaya Rakyat Kongress and call in as many multiracial speakers and panellists to speak about the importance of ethnic education and also put Jawi as only another agenda. By highlighting Jawi solely, the Malays felt that their civilisation was threatened. The fact that Dong Zong was going to conduct the whole meeting in Mandarin does not help.
SEKAT was better, as it lined up a multi-ethnic speakers and spoke Malay at its congress.
Freedom of speech must always be tampered with wisdom to voice aloud. One wisdom is to phrase carefully ones statement so that there is no closed statement. Secondly, wisdom is also to choose the right words for congresses and meetings to gauge its potential to explode. Thirdly, the wisdom of timing is of the essence as some things can be said in such time and the same thing cannot be said if the timing is not right. Finally, wisdom is also about when to hold one’s opinion in complete silence. This last wisdom is the greatest and most difficult of all to achieve as we all have a tendency to blurt our feelings and put our foot in the mouth every time.
I do not wish to speak or advise the Malay groups for they will always be vulgar and ill-mannered. Malays have great difficulty learning their own weakness which they always interpret as their ‘maruah’ or strength.
This article is for all good-intentioned Malaysians. If a husband and wife practise freedom of speech, the marriage would not survive the first two years. But if both can practise the wisdom to speak, the union would last for decades and beyond.
For our nation to survive and grow, all of us good Malaysians must practice not just the freedom of speech but more importantly… the wisdom to choose what and when to speak.
(Professor Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor at a local university.)